Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Self-immolation of States members.

I had the radio on much of today to listen to the States sitting, in case they got to the Energy Plan. That's the one that finally lays out a strategy for us to meet our CO2 emissions reduction obligations under the Kyoto protocol . What I heard instead was the internal dialogue of States members debating (I use that term in its loosest sense) the machinery of Government. In practice they spent the morning debating whether to debate the issue. They then decided they should and proceeded to vote to give the Chief Minister much more power over his ministers. Note the wording I chose there deliberately for they become in effect the CM's minister, not the Assembly's.

The other day they voted not to have a public election for Chief Minister, it is going to remain the preserve of the Assembly. They also rejected a proposition to restrict the Chief Minister, Treasury Minister and External Affairs Minister to senators. While there would have been definite logic in that it also would have had the odd effect that next election at the same time as doing that we'll have a referendum on implementing Clothier, that if passed would extinguish the role of Senator. I cannot say I am surprised – that's what happens when you try to piecemeal implement something that really has to be done as a coherent, designed, interacting working mechanism.

Today's pièce de résistance, in the ongoing soap opera that is States reform of itself, was to implement collective responsibility within the Council of Ministers. No longer will Ministers be free to speak or vote against the policy of the politburo. That guarantees 11 votes in the bag for the CM's party, barring absences. In theory when you have collective responsibility if there is a failure of Government you don't just sacrifice a minister, the whole government goes. That might work in a place where there is a party system with an alternative shadow Government in place ready to take up the gauntlet, but in our system?

There were some bits I missed, but from what I could tell they were arguing about who appoints the Ministers. If I have it right the plan is that the CM proposes a team and the assembly votes for it en bloc. Currently each post is voted individually. If the CM's proposed team is rejected three times, he gets to choose whomever he pleases anyway.

They haven't finished chewing over the changes yet, but I don't know it much matters what they do with the rest. As of the next election, the only time an individual States members who does not end up a Minister gets any meaningful say over anything is when they sit as an electoral college to elect the Chief Minister. After that it is out of their hands, just like WEB, SOJDC, Andium Homes and all the other arm's length, commercially confidential bodies that handle so much of the people's assets and interests.

I did hear a number of people lamenting the demise of the old committee system that preceded the current ministerial approach. I guess if they can make it work in New York, we could have made it work here (See But of course a committee system is very much a council sort of thing, not what you expect of a national government. I suspect so much of what is happening here is that egotistical puffery of bigging up their role and the importance of the Island and the pursuit by some of a notion of independence.

For my part I think the whole approach is the wrong way round.  The way to resilient political process and participation lies in devolving decision making to the people.   This further centralisiation of power and abstraction of control flies in the face of that.  In the extreme imagine we could now have a deputy returned unopposed in St Mary who is elected CM  then selects the Ministers and has an 11 vote head start in any debate.  Even if there were a contested election there, less than 5% of the electorate would arguably have decided the whole Government.  All in your name and quite democratic!

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